CHICAGO -- A small “sound off” session here last week at a trade show could signal the beginning of better communication between acquirers and the rest of the payment industry.

At least that’s Donna Embry’s hope for the session at the Midwest Acquirers Association 10th Annual Conference.

Embry, senior vice president of strategic development for Louisville, Ky.-based Payment Alliance International and incoming association president, outlined her vision to the 25 or so members of the industry gathered in the early-morning meeting

“There doesn’t seem to be a voice for pure acquiring,” Embry said.

To remedy that, other regional acquirers associations are organizing similar sessions at their annual conferences. Working together, the nation’s four regional associations could amass enough power to make their views heard by the major credit card brands, Embry hopes.

“We represent the common people,” she said.

Others at the meeting agreed upon the need for a voice.

“A lot of the problem is people are not communicating to the brands,” said Daniel Sherron, regional manager and partner at Florida-based MLS Direct Network.

The ISOs and agents represented by the association have a number of issues they’d like to air with the card networks and card issuers, but America’ impending switch from magnetic stripe cards to EMV cards seems to drive the current effort.

Embry told the group she had attended a recent MasterCard International EMV workshop and found the information focused on issuers’ concerns.

Moreover, MasterCard laid out its rules and advised attendees to consult with Visa on its rules, she said.

“Everybody is so confused,” Embry emphasized, speaking not just of the attendees at the MasterCard meeting but of the payment industry in general.

“Until you’ve got ubiquity, it’s not going to work,” she said of the need for cooperation in the EMV switch.

Others at the meeting agreed that uncertainty prevails in the EMV transition.

“It’s hard enough to get a merchant to buy a (payment) terminal -- unless it’s broken -- without introducing EMV into the discussion,” said Linda Rossetti, president of Atlanta-based Bluestone Payments.

ISOs hesitate to sell EMV-enabled terminals to merchants because hardware and software requirements appear likely to change as the U.S. EMV standard develops, noted Tami Cohorst, vice president for Abtek Financial, a Waterford, Mich.-based ISO.

“There will be twists and turns -- no doubt about it,” agreed Linda Perry, a consultant and former head of acquirer and processor relations for Visa Inc.

Much of the burden of the EMV introduction will fall on acquirers, who will prove themselves up to the challenge, Perry maintained.

“You will all step up,” Perry told the room. “We are the ones who bring all the creativity” to the payment industry, she said of acquirers.

The “sound off” discussion also covered incursions into the payment industry by such companies as Google Inc. and Square Inc., with participants expressing concern about ISOs losing market share to those new players.

Still, Square soon may recognize merchants need personal service and could turn to ISOs to provide it, said Rod Katzfey, chief operating officer at PayLeap LLC.

Visa invested in Square to gain insight into its progress, he suggested.

Uncertainty over a settlement that prevents Visa and MasterCard from prohibiting retailers to charge separately for interchange also bothered some at the meeting.Including the surcharge on receipts could drive away business and encourage using cash, they reasoned.

But an attendee who spotted exactly that type of surcharge on a hotel bill in Australia did some research and found the locals now consider such notations a non-issue.

“It’s part of daily life,” reported Chas Gannon, vice president of strategic alliances at Austin, Texas-based SecureNet Payment Systems. “I personally don’t think people’s buying habits will change (in the United States). They love their credit cards.”

Attendees also expressed concern about unethical practices in the industry.

Some ISOs or agents are posing as employees of the state of Missouri to dupe merchants into changing processors, said Jan Powers, vice president at St. Louis-based Banc Card Midwest.

“Liars” also pose problems for Mary Breeden, an assistant vice president at Alpine Bank in Rockford, Ill. She suggested regulation may provide the answer.

Yet the group found reason for optimism despite challenges.

“I think there’s plenty of money for everybody” in acquiring, Perry said.


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